This happened a while ago and I just would like to share my experience and what I learned from it.
I joined a volunteer project a while ago, thinking it was a flexible way to help me gain flexible hands-on experience in my industry, since the pandemic has put a heavy toll on my family duties and a full-time job wasn't realistic yet. I had a pleasant conversation with the coordinator and the project cause was something I genuinely supported. There were 2 other volunteers who were already on the project and I was welcomed join in.
Everything seemed to be moving in the good direction. However, after a few rounds of conversations over the course of the following weeks, things began to turn sour and eventually turned into (what my title said) -- a dilemma.
I have worked on a number of volunteer projects before. The processes were mostly easygoing, the communications were always polite and friendly, which is the norm for any kind of volunteer work I assume?
*My foremost mistake was I assumed this project would be just as easygoing as any other ones I have worked with in the past, and disregarded a lot of human factors.
I spent a lot of time studying over existing materials and compiled a good amount of background research to get myself fully prepared. As I examined the existing work done by current volunteers, I noticed a number of major mistakes according to industry standard. So I naturally took note of these and tried to compile proposals to revert the current work and move forward. But the response I received were only accusing tones saying (not a direct quote, but a rough recap) I shouldn't have the guts to pinpoint problems or issues in something that was (again according to industry standard, mistakenly) agreed upon by the existing team.
My reaction was mostly shocked, from being howled at, also from seeing an attitude that is so defensive for their part of the work, for the sake of being defensive, to the point of overlooking (or rather turning a blind eye upon) major mistakes. I was given no chance to explain my intentions or where & why I saw things went wrong. So before the next round of conversation, I spent time to craft a full-scale explanation with very specific industry-related references attached. At that point I was still being optimistic, thinking that if I explained everything according to professional measures, then the other teammates would at least understand where I was coming from.
But I was wrong again. The next conversation wasn't hostile, but came to a dead end where all my industry-related measures/proposals were getting shut off, because according to the other teammates, they spent so much time and worked so hard on the existing work, that I would be wrong for questioning any part of it.
The next day I scheduled a talk with the project coordinator who introduced me to this project. The feedback was fairly neutral, saying sorry I had to go through that, I most likely ran into a personality issue, they (the coordinators) are not in the position to judge who's right & who's wrong, and at the end of the day I always have the freedom to walk away if I find myself in an uncomfortable position. That was exactly what I did, I sent an official email to bid adieu and walked away, because my gut reaction over what I went through was telling me to do so. It wasn't worth my time and effort to continue with a volunteer work that was this agonizing, which it shouldn't be.
To sum up what I learned out of this experience:
- I should have paid attention to the fact that there were already two volunteers working on this project; I should have understood their ways of working and expectations. If I had done this I would've reconsidered before joining in.
- I should have found out more about the role of the coordinator during a time of crisis. I found out later during the process, that whenever a disagreement happens between volunteers, the coordinator leave it to the team to sort out the differences and work things out. I should have seen this as a warning sign, because this basically leaves the work with no real decision maker and whoever cries the loudest wins. (I understand that most volunteer coordinators do not come from the same background as the projects they are leading, but I think it'd be better if they can at least spend some time to learn the standardized operation. This may be my own opinion, but I feel the project coordinator didn't see the need to learn the standards from our industry, because the other volunteer teams have collaborated harmoniously and never experienced such disputes)
This wasn't a totally blissful memory, but I am still thankful for what I learned out of this experience. I also think situations like these are less likely to be happening in real workplaces because there would always be a decision maker assigned and everyone would have known the full industry standard before coming on board.
I'll be happy to hear thoughts or suggestions from you!